Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Council shoulders big responsibility

City leaders get first look at Warm Springs resort plan

Express Staff Writer

Engineer Dave Patrie, right, explains the boundaries of the southern estate lot of the proposed Warm Springs Ranch Resort to the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission, and members of the public, on Monday. If the project is approved by the City Council, a 5,900-square-foot home could be built in the open space encircled by cottonwood trees. Photo by Willy Cook

The Ketchum City Council made it clear last week that even with a positive recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission, the proposed Warm Springs Ranch Resort won't be skating by city leaders without a hard examination.

At a special meeting on Thursday, council members got their first in-depth look at the large-scale resort project and asked plenty of questions that will have to be answered before a decision is made.

The scene at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood was notably different than the public hearings held by the P&Z, as only about half the room was filled by the public, in contrast to the standing-room-only crowds that packed in to attend the five previous hearings.

That was likely due to the fact that the council did not take comment on the project, as the meeting was held merely to collect information needed before the council's first public hearing, tentatively scheduled for early September.

Park City-based developers DDRM Greatplace gave the council an overview of the project, which would feature a five-star luxury hotel, spa, restaurant, townhomes, events house and nine-hole golf course. The resort is planned for Warm Springs Ranch, a 78-acre property at the foot of Bald Mountain partway between the Warm Springs bridge and the Warm Springs chairlifts.

Of this land, just over 11 acres are currently within the city, while the remaining 67 acres would require annexation into Ketchum. The potential addition to the city gave council members cause for concern, especially about the possibility of a developer's pulling the plug on a project after the land is annexed.

"We need to know the consequences of the annexation," Councilman Baird Gourlay said.

These consequences would include the kind of development that would be allowed on the land, as well as public access to Warm Springs Creek.

In order to tackle what has clearly becoming the greatest criticism of the development—the size and scale of the hotel—Councilman Larry Helzel requested that the developer provide hard data supporting the current design.

"I would like to see an economic analysis that relates the size and scale to the project's viability," Helzel said. "What happens if we scale the hotel back by 10 or 15 percent?"

DDRM Greatplace CEO Stan Castleton said that he has that information and will provide it to the council.

Members of the public also offered a number of issues that they believe could benefit from further elucidation.

Ketchum resident Bob Brennan noted that the developer has yet to secure a deal with a hotel operator, a feat he said could be more difficult given the current downturn in the economy.

Former Planning and Zoning Commissioner Annie Corrock added that it could be helpful to hear from a hotel operator, rather than just the developer, as to the details required to make a successful five-star hotel.

There were also a number of recommendations that the council require the developer to provide a completion bond to ensure that construction on the project would be built out in accordance with the plan presented. During its deliberations on the project's planned-unit development application, the P&Z decided that conditioning the certificate of occupancy upon completion of the project would be enough of an incentive.

The council and development team are tentatively scheduled to have another workshop session at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 23, to gather more information prior to the public hearings.

While the P&Z voted on the PUD application in June, it remained busy with the resort, taking another trip to the site on Monday. The visit was scheduled to assist with deliberations on an application for a large block plat, which provides preliminary subdivision delineation. Such a plat is generally used to define, among other things, maximum allowable densities, the types and uses of buildings, and setbacks.

However, for this application the commission asked to do the plat separately from the PUD application, since the commissioners wanted to get a better idea of the size of and building envelope on one of two private-home lots that DDRM Greatplace would put up for sale. The estate lot in question would be at the southern end of the property, in a spot that cleared by previous owners and encircled by cottonwoods.

Brent Hall, representing DDRM Greatplace, said none of the existing trees on the lot would be removed and that the 5,900-square-foot building envelope, plus up to 1,200 square feet for a garage, would not lie within the trees.

Before the commission approved the plat, Dave Patrie, an engineer for the developer, said the building envelope would be set back 75 feet from the riparian area to the south and 50 feet west from Warm Springs Creek.

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